A college fraternity president and aspiring rapper who was accused of threatening a “murderous rampage” similar to April’s deadly shooting spree at Virginia Tech pleaded not guilty Wednesday.
A gun dealer had alerted federal authorities about Olutosin Oduwole, saying he had seemed overly anxious to get an online shipment of semiautomatic weapons, according to an affidavit filed in court by a police detective. The affidavit also said Oduwole was seen walking around campus wearing a bullet-resistant vest in May.
The Southern Illinois University student was arrested Friday after police said they found a handwritten note in his car demanding payment to a PayPal account, threatening that “if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next 7 days then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!”
In the note, the writer suggested the shooting would target a “prestigious” university, but that word was crossed out. There was no direct mention of the 13,500-student Southern Illinois University in this city about 20 miles northeast of St. Louis.
Just rap lyrics?
Oduwole, who turned 22 on Wednesday, was charged a day earlier with making a terrorist threat. He was being held on a total of $1.1 million bail. He also faced unrelated theft and fraud charges that had kept him in jail since his arrest. Those charges accuse him of selling a fully automatic M-16 assault rifle he never owned, then failing to ship the weapon to the online buyer.
During a brief court appearance, attorney Patricia Dennis entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. She declined to comment on the charges.
Friends and a former attorney for Oduwole called the arrest a misunderstanding that might be related to the sometimes violent lyrics of his rap songs.
Regina Hays, the university’s police chief, said the note had rap lyrics scrawled on one side of a piece of typing paper and on part of the opposite side, was the supposed threat.
Lawyer: Suspect is ‘pretty normal’
Police said they found a loaded .25-caliber gun in Oduwole’s campus apartment. According to a search warrant, police also seized a photograph of Oduwole flashing gang signs, a camcorder and U.S. and Nigerian passports. An investigator said Wednesday the passports were in Oduwole’s name.
John Cernkovich, an attorney who until Wednesday represented Oduwole on theft and fraud charges, said Oduwole is a U.S. citizen and described him as “pretty normal.”
“I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I understand that in this environment — post-Sept. 11 — authorities don’t take any chances,” Cernkovich said of the threat allegations. “Unfortunately, my client now is in custody because of that.”
While the university listed Oduwole’s permanent address as Maplewood, N.J., a woman identifying herself as his mother works in the St. Louis area, and a social networking Web site Facebook page appearing to belong to Oduwole says he’s from St. Louis.
A Facebook page for a Tosin Oduwole at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville said he worked at Olad Adult Day Program in Pagedale, Mo. A woman reached at the business identified herself as Oduwole’s mother, but would not give her name. She said she believes the arrest is tied to his lyrics, which she acknowledged were violent.
“He liked to write music, not to hurt anybody,” she said.
Steve Holman, 24, a Southern Illinois University senior and Oduwole’s friend, said Wednesday the matter was “absolutely a misunderstanding.” He declined to discuss it further.
Oduwole, who is president of the local chapter of the Iota Phi Theta fraternity, attended the Edwardsville school during the 2005-06 year, sat out a year on academic probation, and was taking summer courses this year without having declared a major, university spokesman Greg Conroy said.
Word of Oduwole’s arrest trickled slowly Wednesday across the Edwardsville campus, thinned by summer recess. While standing in line to donate blood, 20-year-old Dana Putnam shrugged off any concern, saying she’s always felt at ease at the school she insists has a “small-town atmosphere.”
“I don’t expect anything to happen here,” the nursing student from Hillsboro said. “I still feel pretty safe.”